By Gary C. Harrell
For a small business, expanding into new markets can be an exciting time. This is particularly true when the new market is a foreign one. But, for all the excitement, a great amount of attention must be given to the way in which products are traded, promoted, and placed in these foreign markets. One misstep, one detail overlooked, can result in lost goods, non-payment from buyers, compromised intellectual property, or even reputational risks. Therefore, managing every stage of the export process is critical.
When it comes to safeguarding a business against the risk of non-payment, an entrepreneur-cum-exporter should consider trade credit insurance. This type of coverage is used by businesses of every category and size, and though only three percent of exporters used it in 2016, recent political events like Brexit, trade difficulties between the United States and China, and a swathe of business failures is making the coverage more popular. In fact, many banks increasingly require export receivables to be insured if such receivables are to be considered as collateral for credit lines.
Contingent on the breadth of coverage selected by the exporter, trade credit insurance policies may cover between 60% and 95% of the debt owed by a foreign buyer, if such coverage applies to specified circumstances resulting in the buyer’s non-payment, i.e., political instability or business failure. For this reason, it is advantageous for an exporter to seriously consider the risks posed, both, by the buyer and in the buyer’s market, before selecting the appropriate coverage for the transaction. What’s more, unlike most other types of coverage that policyholder put aside until they must be used, with trade credit insurance, the exporter must report to the insurer as the first shipment of goods or services is dispatched to the buyer; the exporters must commence the payment of premiums; and the exporter must remain in regular communication with the insurer.
While private insurers do offer trade credit insurance to well-heeled exporters, a good number of them do not make the coverage available to small businesses. For this reason, the Export-Import Bank of the United States has stepped into the gap, providing coverage in areas deemed too risky by private insurers. Of course, though, there are a few restrictions when using the EXIM Bank:
- The business must have at least one year of operational history.
- The business must have at least one full-time employee.
- The business (and, in many cases, its owner(s)) must have a positive net worth.
- Fifty percent or more of the costs of the contents of the goods or services to be shipped must originate in the United States. (This can also include indirect costs such as labor or administrative costs.)
- All goods must be shipped to their destination countries from U.S. ports.
- Goods and services must only be shipped to eligible countries.
- The goods typically cannot be inclusive of arms or munitions for military, commercial, or civilian uses, unless the “dual use” of such goods can be clarified and approved prior to their sale.
Entering foreign markets can be an exciting time for a small business owner, because doing so can mean the growth of a brand and the diversification of revenue. But foreign markets come with their own set of challenges, and those are not limited to languages, topography, logistics, laws, customs, or tastes. Managing these risks requires a comprehensive understanding of the new market and proper preparation for exporting to it – not simply a casual desire to do so. Trade credit insurance is but one many facet of that preparation, and it can be a useful and reassuring tool for helping new exporters reduce possible risks in unfamiliar markets.
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Gary C. Harrell is the founder and managing principal of Axiom Strategy Advisors, LLC. For additional information, please write firstname.lastname@example.org.
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